Evidence that the Cys282Tyr mutation of the HFE gene originated from a population in Southern Scandinavia and spread with the Vikings

Clin Genet. 2003 Jul;64(1):36-47. doi: 10.1034/j.1399-0004.2003.00083.x.


Hereditary hemochromatosis has been recognized as a clinical disorder for more than 100 years. The common form of the disorder is caused by the Cys282Tyr mutation (C282Y) of the HFE gene. Hereditary hemochromatosis affects predominantly people of Northern European origin. The C282Y mutation probably occurred on a single chromosome carrying the ancestral hemochromatosis haplotype, which subsequently was spread by emigration and the founder effect. It has been estimated that the C282Y mutation appeared 60-70 generations ago. It was initially suggested that the ancestral C282Y mutation occurred within the Celtic group of peoples. However, we hypothesize that the distribution of the C282Y mutation in Europe is more consistent with an origin among the Germanic Iron Age population in Southern Scandinavia. From this area, the mutation could later be spread by the migratory activities of the Vikings. The aim of the present study was to evaluate the validity of these two hypotheses. Several arguments are in favor of the 'Viking hypothesis': first, the highest frequencies (5.1-9.7%) of the C282Y mutation are observed in populations in the Northern part of Europe, i.e. Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Faeroe Islands, Iceland, Eastern part of England (Danelaw) and the Dublin area, all Viking homelands and settlements. Second, the highest allele frequencies are reported among populations living along the coastlines. Third, the frequencies of the C282Y mutation decline from Northern to Southern Europe. Intermediate allele frequencies (3.1-4.8%) are seen in the populations in Central Europe, which is the original Celtic homeland. Low allele frequencies (0-3.1%) are recognized in populations in Southern Europe and the Mediterranean.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Substitution
  • Geography
  • Hemochromatosis / epidemiology
  • Hemochromatosis / genetics*
  • Hemochromatosis Protein
  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class I / genetics*
  • Humans
  • Membrane Proteins / genetics*
  • Mutation
  • Scandinavian and Nordic Countries


  • HFE protein, human
  • Hemochromatosis Protein
  • Histocompatibility Antigens Class I
  • Membrane Proteins